The USC Admissions Center said that it only looks at a potential student’s social media profile in extraordinary cases in response to a recent survey by Kaplan Test Prep, which found that the percentage of universities across the nation that are using social media to evaluate prospective undergraduates has reached an all-time high.
The survey, released this month, polled 387 college admissions officers and found that 40 percent used applicants’ social media pages to learn about them. Those polled represented a mix of private, public, large and small institutions from every region in the United States.
Kirk Brennan, associate dean and director of USC admissions, said that the role of social media in admissions is minimal at USC, with few circumstances leading admissions officers to use the internet to explore an applicant’s information.
“The Kaplan statistic showed to me that there is very little regular use of social media in the application process,” Brennan said. “While the number of people who say they have used it seems to be growing, the number of people who use it pretty regularly is pretty small, and when you multiply the two, the total number of readers using it is very small.”
Brennan explained that a circumstance, such as an anonymous tip leading officers to question the authenticity of a student’s application, could result in the monitoring of social media. He also said that because USC receives one of the largest applicant pools in the country, there are a significant amount of applicants who hold prominence, for example in the entertainment industry, which requires greater online monitoring.
“We don’t have any kind of policy about forbidding looking at applicants social media content,” Brennan said. “However, the foundation of our process is built on the respect of the applicants, and we understand that this whole process is built on trust … We’re going to take reasonable steps to make sure that this work is their own.”
Eighty-nine percent of polled officers said that they rarely went online to research about their prospective students. Brennan explained that this remains true for USC’s Office of Admission, as officers are often responsible for thousands of applications at a time and simply do not have the time to patrol students’ online profiles.
“I think students need to be careful and need to know not just for college admissions but for jobs and finding a mate or communicating with friends, that the things they say online are open for all to see and subject to interpretation and requires a finer level of attention,” Brennan said. “We’re looking for students who seem to have an understanding in how we can help achieve their goals in doing that, and it’s very strange for social media to have an impact.”
Undergraduate Student Government President Rini Sampath said that she has witnessed her peers utilizing media in different ways while applying to post-bachelor degrees. Sampath mentioned that journalism majors frequently use Twitter and Facebook to supplement their work for job opportunities and graduate programs.
“As a student, I’ve seen so many of my friends who are applying to law schools or graduate programs change their names on Facebook — they go to great lengths to hide themselves from admissions’ eyes,” Sampath said. “But interestingly, I’ve also seen students use media as a tool to continue their application.”
Kelsey Borenzweig, a sophomore majoring in political science, said that even if admissions officers were to assess applicants’ media profiles, there would be a neutral effect as most students would not typically have any information or posts that would harm their ability to receive admittance to the University.
“For the most part, it would have a pretty neutral effect because generally speaking most people’s social media profiles do not have things that are terrible,” Borenzweig said. “If admissions officers were to look at their profile, there most likely would not be something that would cause the officer to not admit a student to the school.”